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Rastko Lazic is a composer and improviser of electronic music based in Yangon, Myanmar. Through the magic of the internet, by which our shared love of weird devices and ideas about sound transcends time and space, many of his works made their way to Seattle. What's in them? A devotional attention to the basic qualities of sounds both found and generated, it seems, and a purposeful collection of digital and analog devices for focusing it.
In a recent video you posted online, you made a very expressive connection between the Soundplane and a Serge Modular Synthesizer. What are the aspects of the Soundplane that inspired you to use it in this way?
I have been interested in controlling the modular synthesizer with either movement (Serge Modular and the Theremin https://vimeo.com/42150452 and Tuning a Performance https://vimeo.com/86026852 and Tape002 https://vimeo.com/46954260) or touch and pressure (Popcorn https://vimeo.com/31022576) for a long time.
The Soundplane fits perfectly into this exploration. The Soundplane sends information from three dimensions and can do that from multiple touches simultaneously. From the four touches, I use one could take the difference between touched values and use that as a new value. Or any other equation. Like Wiard JAG https://malekkoheavyindustry.com/product/jag/ but with a possibility of 32 inputs. In this way, you get a lot from the touches and movements.
What is most important is that the Soundplane works and feels really well when played. A beautiful instrument.
For the connection between the Soundplane and the Serge I used the Expert Sleepers ES-3 module. For the translation from OSC into CV, I created a custom Max/MSP patch.
You seem to be a big user of modular synthesizers. What is it specifically about modular synthesis you enjoy?
The first thing I loved about the modular synths was the sound or either the vast possibilities to create new and alter existing sounds very fast. I love the way Serge (I have a Serge Modular synth) managed to make so many functions in a very compact space and I love the fact that nothing was forbidden and that with mistakes and chances one came to sounds never thought of or heard before. Many modular synth manufacturers are now expanding on this idea and are involving digital technology as well.
Modulars are great open systems and for the most part, the only limit is one's imagination.
You can hear some of my first recordings with my modular here on “This Room Is Too Small” https://rastko.bandcamp.com/album/this-room-is-too-small and see me playing my synth on my friends boat and on his artificial island (a movie prop he got as a present) in my favorite part of Belgrade, Serbia on the river: Rastko And His Serge https://vimeo.com/19058233
This love for modular begun with me listening to a lot to older electronic music from the late sixties. I bought a lot of old library books about the music and the techniques used and read through every manual for old modular synths I could download. I found out about the Serge modular synth from these books.
I really got obsessed with my Serge in a very good way and it makes me happy. Modulars can give you this childlike happiness of discovery and this is great. I always think about new ways to connect things and wonder what would happen. I love the feedback patches and the sounds coming from them, it is like a living organism. These patches never end to surprise and excite me. This is something I can not find in computer software.
The thing I discovered is that smaller modular systems are much better for performances and playing. At least for me.
I now use more software but I learned a lot from modular and I am creating presets in a similar way I would patch a modular.
Most of the software instruments I now use is inspired by the modular instruments so it is not so hard for me to adapt and understand them. Now I am creating more and more Max/MSP patches to add more control, randomness and the chance to midi that is sent to software instruments.The software instruments maybe do not sound as good as the Serge but they sound different and are sounding better and better. The reason why I do not use the modular so much anymore is that I like the idea of a static instrument in a sense that I separate patching and playing.
With modular I use a long time to patch and then after recording it is gone. In one way this is great but I also like to be able to just switch on the instrument and play it. This is what software is good at. I use them to create the patch in, for instance, Aalto and with a dial, I can come to that sound again and play it. This with live preset switching becomes very powerful.
I started performing and working like this with the wonderful Nord Modular Micro and, here again, I play with a controller but this time, I limited it to knobs and faders: Micro Modular Patches https://vimeo.com/65191738
In addition to modular synthesizers, you also employ Madrona Labs’ Aalto and Kaivo in your compositions. How do Aalto and Kaivo fit into your workflow?
Aalto and Kaivo work really well with the Soundplane. They are a perfect match. Aalto has a great interface and with the constraints, it has it forces the user to think of new ways to create presets and sounds. One can use some elements which are not intended to be used in some conventional software instruments. For instance envelope as a sound source. This is very much the thought of Buchla and Serge.
On the other hand, Kaivo sounds incredibly acoustic and often it is unreal when touching the wood surface of the Soundplane that these gorgeous string sounds come out. It really becomes an acoustic instrument and one forgets the computer and the electronics. Really you could think that these strings are somehow under the wood. Every subtle pressure or rub creates sound. These sounds can be wonderfully weird and abstract.
On these latest recordings, it is mostly Kaivo played live on the Soundplane: Yangon Miniatures: http://rastko.bandcamp.com/album/yangon-miniatures
Your website states that you have been composing music since 1996 for contemporary dance, theater, and television. What are some of your favorite compositions you have done?
Well, maybe the two beginnings are my favorite.
The first one was the soundscape for the Copenhagen Culture City 1996. The composition was performed from the underground toilet under the main square in Copenhagen. They had a joystick and 8 channels of audio I could move on a large array of speakers under the square. The speakers were in the water drains. This was the first time I was doing musique concrete. The first time doing soundscapes as well.
I just came back from studying audio engineering in London and amazingly enough on this whole audio engineering course there was no mention about the history of electronic music and sound. It was all about types of microphones, technique and industry. Now I am much more interested in the history and the art of sound.
The second favorite piece was done for Dalija Acin and her “Handle With Great Care” performance. This composition was important for me as I realized that I have to do what I feel like and not to try to please everybody and follow the rules. We created a long and loud noise piece that we felt is perfect for the choreography. At that time, some colleagues told me it is impossible to do such a thing and that these frequencies can not be used. The performance was a great success and while watching it I was really touched. My sound was just a part of this. Dalija and Ana are great performers.
This is actually a recording of the whole performance but it is hard to understand it from the video as it has to be loud and just being in the audience is different than watching it on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/11601471 What is really funny is that somebody posted the same performance but decided to put on something I assume he or she thinks is real music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRLfjBhK2XM
Much of the music you have shared online shares a unique style of electronic ambiance. What about this style of music speaks to you and what are your creative goals in terms of music composition?
It is a mix of a lot of things I am interested in. I like noise music and I use it subtly almost always. Then I like the self-generating patches and I made a lot of recordings of that. Right now I am interested in minimal music and just enjoy playing and recording simple short structures. Here in Myanmar, I play a lot of gongs and local percussions and now finally I have a possibility to record that properly so that should be on the net soon as well.
All these different sounds I make come from my surroundings and I am very much influenced by the people and the sounds that surround me every day. I am very lucky that I traveled a lot and lived in a lot of places so the sounds and smells from these places influence me and the music I play and record.
Often it is also some events in my life that put me usually in a rather melancholic mood. There is a reason for that and I think this is not so bad actually.
I really do not have any goals. I let the sounds play and I record them, then I like them or not. I try not to edit so much but to record as much as possible live.
I love sound. Melody and sound are for me equal. Sometimes in these sound textures there is a melody hidden, discovering this melody is the beauty.
profile: Josh Leibsohn
photos: Rastko Lazic
interview by Geeta Dayal
At age 29, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith is a rising star in the world of electronic music. Her music was shaped by her years spent exploring the pastoral landscapes of Orcas Island in the Pacific Northwest, which led to a chance encounter—via a neighbor—with a Buchla 100 modular system. This, in turn, led to an affinity for the Buchla Music Easel, a unique, portable synthesizer invented in the 1970s. After several experiments with releasing her own material, her first full-length album, Euclid, was released in 2015 on the label Western Vinyl. Her new album, EARS, is receiving major acclaim; NPR recently raved that it "elevates the warm pulse of the Music Easel into the realm of the divine" and Spin wrote that Smith's album is "startlingly, richly fulsome, commingling the mysticism of Smithsonian Folkways LPs, IDM’s furrowed futurism, and the free fall questing of Laurie Spiegel’s 1980 landmark, The Expanding Universe."
What drew you to composing electronic music in the first place? Can you talk about some of your early inspirations?
I studied orchestral music and composition in school, and my first introduction into making electronic music was on a Buchla 100. Immediately I felt like I had a personal orchestra at my fingertips with only my time to worry about.
In the beginning of my experience with electronic music, listening was my inspiration. Taking time to listen to one oscillator and then adding another and hearing how they interact. I spent a lot of time with the Buchla 100 trying to learn what It seemed like the machine wanted to do, rather than what I wanted it to do. I found this approach to be more enjoyable and less frustrating.
You’ve talked a bit in interviews about the natural environment of Orcas Island in Washington, and the profound effect it had on you. Can you briefly describe the landscape, for people who have never been there?
There are endless evergreen, aspen, madrona and cedar trees. The ground is lined with thick pads of moss. Lots of mushrooms. It is an island in the Puget Sound, so it is surrounded by other islands that look very similar. No poison oak. Lots of deer, rabbits, hawks, eagles. A lot of moisture in the air.
I was struck at how you are able to coax beautifully tonal music out of the Buchla Music Easel. It’s not an easy instrument to play in the way that you do. Can you talk about why and how you use the Easel? Some of your techniques and tricks?
Thank you. I approach the Easel in a similar way that I did the 100 but with a bit more intention now. I have spent enough time with it that it feels like an extension of my limbs, like how an acoustic instrument does. When I am composing, I use a mixture of intention and happy accident to guide the intention. If I could, I would use a Buchla 200 but since I don't have access to one, I am more than happy with the Easel. When I compose electronic music, the electronic part is always secondary to me. Composition is first.
You’ve used a combination of hardware and software instruments. Can you talk a bit about how you’ve used Aalto?
I love Aalto; it feels like a software version of a Buchla. Very intuitive to work with. Inspiring interface. It has a very complimentary tone to the Buchla. I like to map it to a hardware device and compose with it in real-time along with the Easel.
What’s your setup like at home for making music? How do you work?
My setup changes a lot depending on the project. Sometimes it is just a piano and sheet music; sometimes it is notation from Finale sending MIDI to the Easel; sometimes it is really elaborate with many synths connected to each other using the same clock, and a vocal mic so I can make everything in real time.
I find that I create best when I experience novelty, so I tend to not stick to a routine or similar setup when I create.
What are your plans for future projects? What are you looking forward to in the coming year?
I have a new album that I am very excited about — it combines synthesis with orchestral instruments and voice. I will be touring a lot over the next year and making more music.
Kate Simko can trace her musical journey back to the age of five, when she began studying classical piano and music theory. Throughout her time growing up in the Chicago suburbs, music was a constant creative outlet but never something she considered as a career plan. Then in the early nineties, as a teenager, she found her way to the underground Midwest rave scene in the wild and full flower of its youth and something clicked. Having dance music as an abiding inspiration alongside her classical training led her to center her life more and more around music. She writes: "I was just starting to figure out who I was as an individual, and electronic music opened my mind and passion for life and self-discovery. It was through dancing til dawn at raves that I started absorbing new music and ways of thinking."
Kate began DJing on WNUR radio in Chicago in the early 2000’s. In 2002, she studied composition in Santiago, Chile, and recorded her first album Shapes of Summer with Chilean electronic producer Andres Bucci. Since then her catalogue has grown to include releases on a wide variety of labels Kupei Musika, Get Physical, Hello?Repeat, The Vinyl Factory, Leftroom, No.19, Sasha’s Last Night On Earth imprint, and Jamie Jones’ Emerald City.
She now lives in London, having recently completed a Masters in Composition for Film and Orchestra at the Royal College of Music. She works on a broad range of musical pursuits: producing dance music, composing soundtracks, remixing, DJing, and playing live with her group the London Electronic Orchestra. Through all of these her work projects her unique voice, combining classical orchestration with dance music's jack.
When I listen to your work, from earlier tracks on labels like Kupei Musika and Hello? Repeat to your latest work with London Electronic Orchestra, I hear a lot of careful attention to timbre. Instead of the kind of sound that references a certain genre, yours always seem more tailored to the particular composition and not so easily described. Can you talk about your process for coming up with these sounds?
Yes, I imagine the sound I’d like to create, then work towards creating it. Sometimes it’s achieved by an instrument with a lot of effects. For example, I might take an accordion, because it has a slow attack and release, and then add some distortion, a drastic EQ, panning, and delay or other modulation plug-ins to achieve a desired synth sound. I often lean towards “organic” sounding aesthetics, so taking a sound recording and manipulating it works well to have a warmer, less digital sound.
I take it that Aalto is a part of your process somehow. Is there a certain kind of sound or situation you use it for?
Aalto is fantastic for spatial sound design and pads and dense sounds with a sense of movement. Personally, I find myself drawn to Aalto for film scores, and actually am using Kaivo and Virta on a soundtrack right now too.
This film score, a science documentary, is working well with rhythmic synths, and these synths are ideal. They don’t sound too repetitive yet there is a sense of constant movement, which works well against the film.
You've talked about how, in your recent work with London Electronic Orchestra, you are giving what would normally be synthesizer parts to the acoustic performers. Do you end up composing in the same way you would for synths, or have you found a different approach is needed?
In general I compose for orchestral parts in an electronic song in the same way. I usually pull up the section of the orchestra I’d like to use (ex: French Horn for brass, Cello for low strings, etc). and record ideas from the MIDI piano. I don’t focus on the timbre of the orchestral samples, just the melody and rhythm, as I know the sound and orchestral instrument will change.
It many of the LEO pieces it sounds like the band is playing to a master clock. Do you use a click track? Has getting the group to feel right rhythmically been difficult?
The LEO musicians are excellent players with a great sense of rhythm, so they make it seem easy, not difficult! We always record to a click track, but they know they have freedom (especially when it’s a solo line) to express themselves and get back in time to hit the next phrase.
I'm curious about the path that led you from doing solo productions to becoming a bandleader. Is this something you've been trying to move towards for a while?
This was a surprise turn of events for me too! I moved to London in 2012 to get a masters in Composition for Screen (film and orchestra) at the Royal College of Music, and I was at the RCM recording studio (which charged only £20/hour including the engineer and Pro Tools recordings!) as much as possible. I started writing for an amazing harpist, Valeria Kurbatova, and our LEO violinist Kamila Bydlowska, and tried out every orchestral instrument possible. After two years I had a collection of songs which is the core of the debut London Electronic Orchestra album.
Between dance music, film/video work and the live performance you have a lot of irons in the fire. Are there any new projects coming up you'd like to mention?
Yes, it’s a balance between DJing, producing, film scores, and LEO. Right now the most exciting project on my plate is a collaboration with Jamie Jones called ‘Opus 1.’ Jamie and I have released a couple orchestral-electronic tracks together, and we debuted a show with live orchestra in Bogota, Colombia in December 2016. Now we are creating new material and bringing the show to the Barbican in London this November. It will be an expanded LEO full orchestra of 25 players, and Jamie and I on electronics. Hopefully we can take this show on tour next year, including to the states!
Alex Menzies is a Scottish producer and DJ. As Alex Smoke, he has carved out a unique path through the dance music world since 1994 with three albums and numerous singles that display a rare talent for combining modern compositional ideas with the demands of the dancefloor. His most recent album, the self-titled Wraetlic, marks a new project that is based more on stripped-down pop structures and expressive sound design.
Long Glasgow-based, Alex has recently moved to Berlin. By email, I asked him a little about his new music and his writing process.
I like this new music and also the name “Wraetlic” very much. It and the track titles prime me to delve into a particular kind of kind of story, but leave ample room for mystery.
Cheers! Yeah anything too explicit, and the mystery has gone……things are better left unsaid and just skirted around. Just ask David Lynch.
You are working in an territory that I think of as in between tracks and songs, from where a lot of my favorite music has come. Can you point to any influences in this area?
Yeah it's very fertile ground as far as I'm concerned, somewhere you can experiment completely but still be able to keep it comprehensible by having a vocal narrative. You can have the weirdest stuff happening in the background, but if there's a vocal, it's suddenly very accessible. People who do it well are Matthew Dear, Khonnor, How To Dress Well, Autre ne Veut, Hype Williams, to name a few. They all come from totally different angles, but the voice is like a hook for the brain to latch on to.
You said that Aalto was an inspiration on the album. Are you able to say anything about how that happens? For example, some people talk about synthesizers as tools that help you get sounds you’ve imagined in your head out into the world. Others approach them more as boxes of mystery and possibility.
Firstly, yes it is no lie that Aalto was a big part of the production of this album, and came along at the time I was just starting the project. It really inspired me. There are several things about it which immediately made it stand out and invited me to experiment, the first thing being the simplicity of the layout which just makes it so approachable, despite the fact that it is semi-modular. I know I can create interesting sounds if I have access to that routing, so it is instantly creative, and encourages experimentation. It has a purity of conception about it, if that makes sense!
I am also the kind of producer who likes to have the ability to really make the sounds in my head, and again Aalto has some very unusual features which make it possible to create timbres which I am very fond of, especially bells and clicky, unpredictable tones. The Waveguide too is a big part of the appeal for me. That sound is so much more alive than a normal oscillator, and you get the sense that you are playing with a living thing, that has to be coaxed to do what you want of it. Unlike the standard oscillator, which just blurts out its noise for you to cosh into submission with a filter.
I hear some short melodic parts that could have been done in Aalto’s sequencer. Was it useful that way?
I tend to use the sequencer as a control source for the pitch only when the sequence is either very simple or if the pitches aren't so important. For normal melodic sequences, I prefer the control of piano-roll, as it is much easier to create many pattern variations that way, and also to use that MIDI information for other parts etc. Where I do use the sequencer in particular is with the oscillator’s linear pitch input to create huge fast jumps between pitches, resulting in strange beeps and noises, especially in conjunction with the noise oscillator. Also, altering the offset of the sequencer at the same time creates some brilliantly complex tones.
What was your setup like for making this music? Do you stick to one software environment for recording? Do you do any hardware mixing or processing?
I am a simple man….I just use Logic for the sequencing aspects, although I also use Kyma as a sound design tool which is a separate environment. For me the most important thing of all is getting the ideas down fast so as not to lose any ideas, and software wins this battle hands down. I care a lot about my sound sources but again, the software is now so good that external synths are a largely unnecessary luxury for me. That's not to say I don't hanker after a Jupiter 4 or a Buchla, but they aren't strictly required, especially now that I have Aalto to fill that Buchla-shaped gap in my sound-arsenal! There is a certain amount of fetishism about hardware gear, and many people I think just have it for that added appeal. I am also less of an experimenter, in the sense that I want to write the stuff in my head, and hardware is especially suited to open experimentation where you approach with an empty idea.
Place is always important to making music, and software tools offer interesting possibilities that way. Some of this album sounds to me like it could have been made in a remote cabin or monastery. Any truth to that?
I will actually include a picture of my studio at exactly the time I was making the Wraetlic album, and you will be heavily underwhelmed……haha…… In a way you're right, in that my head is somewhere between a remote cabin and a monastery! I would still love to go on a retreat to write an album and I have always intended it, but this album was not the one. It is all down to your inner world, and that is I think the most brilliant thing of all about making music now. That you can take your inner world and express it, whilst surrounded by the most abject banality, anywhere at all. But it's that inner world that matters.
Would you like to mention any other tools (hardware, software, consumables, rituals) that are important to your process?
My working processes alternate between the shockingly simple (such as doing vocals using the MacBook's inbuilt microphone) and the heavily labour-intensive (programming Kyma), but the only common threads are a lot of tea and working late at night. I have favourite software (there's a list on my website if it's of any interest) but I find that ultimately you need very few tools, as long as they are just the right ones. I know I could have just Aalto, Absynth and Soundtoys and still make 90% of what I want to. Although I'd also miss Kyma for that last 10% of madness.
Alex Smoke presents: Wraetlic is out now on Convex Industries.
I've posted the Virta update with all the patches. Since the plugin code hasn't changed, the new installer is also v.1.8.3 but with all the patches.
We put on a big push for Superbooth, which was exciting. I'm working full time on Sumu (the next plugin) now. When Sumu ships I can return to work on the module.
Wow, so I looked at the installer and found some issue in my build here that clobbered most of the presets. Totally my problem and it was just something so weird I wasn't checking for it. I'll release a full update with all the presets tomorrow.
Meanwhile here's a .zip of all the presets separately:
sorted, please see your email.
No worries! I'm here to help.
OK, I get it now. I did not know if you meant versions of patches, or of the plugin. Updating to Aalto 1.8.3 should fix this. It's a free update.
Sorry, can you explain in more detail? I don't understand what you mean.
When the problem happens,
- what operation did you do immediately before the problem?
- what did you expect to happen next?
- what happened instead?
Of course having any sort of sound engine begs the question of why aren't there more sounds! I think just a few really solid ones might be a sweet spot though. Like some old analog synths that had 8 presets or whatever.
You can email me at support @ madronalabs.com if you like.
If you start from the default patch, which has no patch cords going into the sequencer, and just set the int/host toggle to host, you'll have a simple patch that should track the clock repeatably.
The Model B will be more refined but not have an internal sound engine. Maybe down the road!
That's weird. Are you possibly modulating the start point of the sequencer somehow in the patch? Because otherwise it should be totally repeatable.
What happens if you start from 0.0.0.0 every time? Does anything change?
Aalto's sequencer will start on the first note whenever the host clock starts. It synchronizes to the nearest beat (1/4 note.) So if you want it to stay in sync with your track you will have to start playback on the one, in general.
This is by design—it's a simple tool more like a modular looping sequencer than a score-based one.
Thank you for taking the time to make this clear example. This certainly seems to be a bug with the MPE handling. I'm currently working on this very system and hopefully I'll have a fix to try soon.
What kind of controller are you using? I'm just curious.
There have been some issues with Windows from time to time but hardly ever on a Mac. So I don't have too many ideas. Are you running any anti-virus software? You could try turning it off. Also, possibly the installer was corrupted so just downloading it again may work.
I would just use the default location on your startup drive and see if you can get that to work. With an external drive, permissions issues come to mind, but I can't think of why it would install 10 presets and then stop. Unless the drive is full.
Yes, there are around 150.
You could try reinstalling. What OS are you on?
Happy summer from the PNW, USA, where things are not bad, considering. I've just wrapped up some infrastructure work fixing some long-standing issues and resulting in an update to all the plugins that's available now for both MacOS and Windows.
The change list for Aalto looks like this:
- added handling of "all notes off" and "all sound off" MIDI messages
- fixed bugs with Scala .scl and .kbm handling
- fixed issue with step sequencer not quantizing to current scale
- fixed issue with step sequencer UI not reaching maximum when dragging
- added slower LFO minimum speed and finer adjust (0.0001 Hz)
- added response to "canDo" MPE query in VST plugin
- increased glide time to reduce zipper noise for panel parameters
- fixed possible DSP freeze with extreme LFO feedback
- fixed sometimes missing t3d light
- fixed sometimes missing label backgrounds
Kaivo and Virta have some additional changes to fix audio glitches when certain parameters were changed. See those "read_me_first" files for details.
Since so many parts of the plugins are handled by the same underlying code, I've tweaked the version numbering a bit to reflect this. All the plugins are now at version 1.8.3, which looks like a big step for Kaivo and Virta (from 1.3).
Hmm, I have always put out the beta call through the newsletter, which is mostly customers, so I never thought about whether it will be closed in that sense. I guess if you have an account you're good.
I haven't released any samples.
I haven't updated the instructions for Audacity for a while but they are at the end of the readme for Kaivo: https://madronalabs.com/media/kaivo/_read_me_first.txt If they don't seem to work anymore, please let me know.
I'll send out a Sumu beta testing invite soon, hopefully!
Thanks for your support and ideas! Enjoy the instruments.
I'll try to do some good general tutorial stuff on additive synthesis in the manual. I don't actually know any of the synths you mention because I kind of stay in my own little world when I'm designing. But I look forward to checking some out and hearing people's comparisons later on.
@nichttuntun, you can import any WAV format file. For making 4-channel WAVs I use Audacity. You can convince most DAWs to make this format. I would love to make this easier but I didn't want to spend the time writing my own audio editor. Maybe in the future.
@thetechnobear I did make sure the Soundplane repo is up-to-date. I haven't been able to test the libusb support. Please let me know how it goes!
I want to do it!
@hougaard, I'm not sure what problem you mean. Same as @spotta? The account looks OK. Please email me at support for faster response.
Thanks for the note. I'll be doing some work on MPE compatibility in the future and have added this item to the list.
@ian_craig thanks for the good words! That was a simple request from a user and in no way messes up the design, so... done!
@nichttuntun That wavetable granulator is what I'm pointing to with the 2D granulator in Kaivo. Have you tried making your own 2D waveforms yet? Of course, it only does 4 channels. More a limitation of the interface than anything else.
Dear music makers,
In appreciation for your support, Madrona Labs is having a summer sale this year. Use the code PARTICLES on any of the product pages to get 30% off any Madrona Labs plugin. From now through the end of August.